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Advocate View (Editorial)

On the trail of a worthy plan

reprinted from the Red Deer Advocate (Greg Neiman), Sept. 9, 2005

Every community needs people who can take a good idea, hold on to it and patiently work it into completion. People like Bob Johnstone, president of the Central Alberta Region Trail Society.

He's bought into the idea that a national network of cycle and hiking trails would be a great legacy, and he's willing to invest an awful lot of his time to help bring local sections of that network into existence.

Red Deer's trail system added 29 km to that network last June, and a trail marker in Bower Ponds will be officially unveiled on Saturday.

Dedicating already-existing trails into the Trans Canada Trail system is obviously a good idea. But the TCT -- the longest cycling/hiking route in the world at 18,000 km -- won't be a reality until a whole lot of new trail is built.

Although Alberta already has about 600 km of the trail completed, we have a long way to go, because the east-west route across Canada makes an intersection in Alberta with the route heading north into the Yukon.

That means we get the nation's largest provincial portion of the trail, which -- as Johnstone could surely tell you -- is both a blessing and a challenge.

It's a blessing because Alberta will have access to one of the world's top new tourism draws of the millennium (about 62 per cent of our section of the trail has been completed), and because Red Deer will be almost in the centre of it.

A recent Price Waterhouse study done in Ontario gives an indication of how big a deal this idea can be. They concluded that once Ontario's part of the TCT is complete, it will add about $2.4 billion in value-added income to the province's economy. As much as 42,000 direct and indirect jobs will be added to the economy, fueled by the money that people spend using the trails.

British Columbia needed no such study to conclude that it would be worth $13.4 million to rebuild or refurbish 14 trestle bridges that were destroyed or damaged in the forest fires of 2003.

The Kettle Valley Trail, that runs 450 km over old railway beds (and the trestle bridges in the spectacular Myra Valley canyon), is a key part of Central B.C.'s tourism plan.

In fact, they are spending even more money to expand the trail to 700 km, linking other existing trails and 18 communities in their Spirit of 2010 project.

Alberta's recently-completed Iron Horse Trail runs for 300 km, much of it on old rail lines and is designed for four-season use. It now links Waskatenau (and from there, the Saskatchewan portion), to Cold Lake and beyond, to be linked with Alberta's capital region of the CTC. It's already proving to be a huge tourism booster.

Even though the experience of people living along trails shows that the trails produce far fewer problems than benefits, getting stakeholder support (which includes local landowners) is proving to be a slow process.

Another roadblock to the easy linking of communities (and their local trail networks) is the policy of Alberta Transport not to allow trail development along highways to link communities.

A media spokesperson for Alberta Transportation and Infrastructure maintained the policy is to address safety concerns.

But if there's no trail along the road allowance of a highway, a cyclist or hiker would have to travel the highway itself. That can't improve safety.

It certainly can't be because of the cost, because local trail committees actually raise money for trail construction and upkeep -- and the trails more than pay for themselves in increased tourist trade anyway.

Just ask the merchants at Bentley, who prosper each summer from the roadside trail linking the Aspen Beach campground on Gull Lake to the town.

Even so, some local highway routes are fabulous bike routes all on their own.

One example: Hwy 951 north of Leslieville is one of the most beautiful country rides you could find anywhere, and it links wonderfully on a circle route on Hwy 51 east to Bentley or west and south back to Rocky Mountain House.

There are many other such routes, that beg for a linked trail network. Consider the route following the Boomtown Trail southeast of Red Deer.

How much more successful could that tourism effort be if the provincial government allowed some of the communities on it to be linked on cycle trails just off the highways?

These kinds of local roadblocks might be enough to make some dedicated volunteers just give up and stay home.

But people like Bob Johnstone just keep on working. That's why communities need them.

Central Alberta Regional Trails Society


News articles related to regional trail development including rail-trails:
Commentary: Preservation Opportunity Not to be Lost
(Innisfail Province & Red Deer Advocate June 2015)
       News article: Red Deer County seeks partners to afford bridge access
(Mountain View Gazette Apr.2012)
       News article: County council looks at bridge as tourist attraction
(Red Deer Advocate April 2012)
       News article: Plans for Mintlaw Bridge waiting on public feedback
(Mountain View Gazette Feb.2012)
       News article: City council adopts river valley plan
(Red Deer Express July 2010)
       News article: Building trails to paradise (Red Deer Advocate March 2009)
       News article: Clearwater County calls on province for advice about trail (Red Deer Advocate April 2008)


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